The Scout Guide Tidewater editor Mary Kaufman on the Virginia Beach boardwalk. Photography by Andi & Zoe.

A quintessential East Coast beach town, Virginia Beach boasts one of America’s most photogenic boardwalks, plenty of waterside oyster bars, and an abundance of unique, high-end shopping opportunities. But what many might not know is that the well-known waterfront destination also neighbors the bustling city of Norfolk, and is surrounded by many charming “sister cities” nestled into the beautiful coastal plains. The area, known to locals as the Tidewater Region, is steeped in history and military lore, and covered in water. Here, The Scout Guide Tidewater editor Mary Kaufman shares a guide to her area that will have visitors considering tacking on an extra day or two to their Virginia Beach travel plans.

Where to Stay

If you’re coming to Virginia Beach and want a grand hotel experience, Mary recommends staying at The Historic Cavalier Hotel & Beach Club (4200 Atlantic Avenue). The century-old spot was recently reimagined as An Autograph Collection hotel. “It’s situated on top of the only hill in the relatively flat region, meaning the views of The Atlantic Ocean are the best in town,” says Mary, who recommends taking them in from an Adirondack chair on the hotel’s sprawling green lawn. She also recommends a stop inside the hotel’s whiskey tasting room, Tarnished Truth Distillery, for a nightcap.

For visitors who want a more city-like getaway, Mary suggests staying in Norfolk. The new Glass Light Hotel (201 Granby Street) is getting attention from art lovers everywhere thanks to the world-renowned glass art adorning the walls, ceilings, and tables. While there, Mary says to be sure to sit beneath the glass art chandeliers created uniquely for the hotel and enjoy French-inspired dishes prepared by its Michelin star chef.

The Scout Guide Tidewater editor Mary Kaufman at the Glass Light Hotel bar. Photography by Andi & Zoe.

Where to Sightsee, Shop, and Dine in Virginia Beach

The Virginia Beach Boardwalk is one of the most famous boardwalks on the East Coast. At just over three miles, it stretches from 40th Street at the northern edge down to Grommet Island Park. Mary says to begin your boardwalk stroll at the famous King Neptune Statue, where you’ll need to snap an obligatory photo next to the god of the ocean. Then, walk south until you reach the iconic Virginia Beach restaurant Waterman’s (415 Atlantic Avenue), which offers outdoor dining. Local legend has it that Waterman’s is the home of the popular summertime drink, the orange crush— a must try.

Want to take a side route off the beaten path? Turn down Laskin Road at King Neptune to shop with the locals. Right off the boardwalk is a new area of town that’s experiencing a lot of growth, including many new higher-end locally owned shops. Mary recommends stopping into Glow Apothecary (315 Laskin Road) and Plant Bar (3102 Holly Road) for gifts, and picking up a new pair of sunglasses for the rest of your stay at Studio Optix (310 30th Street). Serious shoppers may want to drive a little further down Laskin Road to The Shops at Hilltop. It’s worth the ride for the clothing selections at the expertly curated menswear store Beecroft & Bull (1612 Laskin Road) and always chic Trish Boutique (1628 Laskin Road).

When you’re ready to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Boardwalk, immerse yourself in the quiet tidal coastland scenery. Mary recommends a visit to the Back Bay Wildlife Refuge in Sandbridge, a beautiful stretch of tidal wetlands that backs up to the ocean. You can only get to it by bike or foot, but it’s worth the walk—the refuge is home to thousands of species of waterfowl. “Virginia Beach’s best-kept secret is Sandbridge. It’s a little more rural, with beaches similar to those found in the Outer Banks,” Mary says. First Landing State Park (2500 Shore Drive) at the north end of Virginia Beach is another beautiful area where the locals bike, run, and walk among the Spanish moss-covered trees along the Chesapeake Bay.

The list of places to eat in Virginia Beach is long, especially if you’re craving fresh local seafood. For a classic beach restaurant experience, hit The Atlantic (3004 Pacific Avenue) and be sure to sample the fresh raw oysters from the eastern shore whenever they are on the menu, along with one of their famous craft cocktails. For lunch, try The Green Cat (3801 Pacific Avenue) for fresh juice and a vegan-friendly menu. The locals frequent Taste (multiple locations) for lunch, and they know to order extra sides of their addictive house dressing no matter what. For a leisurely meal on the water, visit The Porch on Long Creek (2109 West Great Neck Road), where you’ll see locals pulling their boats up, and find opportunities to enjoy live music most weekends. Last but not least, no weekend in Virginia Beach is complete without a homemade scoop of ice cream from Lolly’s Creamery (4966 Euclid Road). All of these options currently offer either outside dining, online ordering, takeout, or curbside pickup.

Where to Enjoy a Tidewater Day Trip

Virginia Beach and Norfolk are surrounded by some of Virginia’s undiscovered historic maritime villages, and you don’t even need to get in a car to see some of them! If you’re staying in Norfolk, Mary suggests hopping on a water taxi to the historic town of Portsmouth. There, you’ll find a quaint old-timey town with rich history dating back to the American Revolution, plus lots of waterside dining options. The Virginia Children’s Museum (221 High Street) is a state-of-the art museum located in Portsmouth that draws visitors of all ages from across the state. Don’t miss the bubble room, and be sure to take in a show at the planetarium.

If you have the time, consider spending half a day in the charming town of Smithfield, home to the famous Virginia ham. Smithfield has a picturesque historic Main Street with plenty of adorable shops. Mary’s favorite is Wharf Hill (216 Main Street), which is full of charming antiques and home goods. Make time for lunch at Taste of Smithfield (217 Main Street), owned by Smithfield Ham, where locals tend to favor the sweet potato ham biscuits, and visit their gift shop, where you can pick up lots of different types of Virginia peanuts (for something truly indulgent, Mary recommends the chocolate peanut butter dipped variety).

Tidewater is surrounded by farms, and if you happen to be in the area during strawberry season, you’ll want to sample the region’s famously sweet berries. Pungo isn’t too far from Virginia Beach, and home to plenty of pop-up farm stands where you can purchase bushels of strawberries, or whatever is in season, to snack on at the beach. While you’re out farm-stand hopping, pick up a coffee and lunch or breakfast at Sawdust Road (1791 Princess Anne Road). Located in an old historic home, this is the spot where locals go for their honey lavender lattes and scrumptious sandwiches.

For additional recommends for what to do, see, and experience in the Tidewater region, follow The Scout Guide Tidewater on Instagram.